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on 3 January 2015
An excellent read which should now be updated. There are scores of witty and funny sketches of so many of the people which I am sure most of us would have loved to write. There is much here that is brilliant and truthful so ignore the 'one stars' ratings because almost all of them will have been offended because Letts has had the balls to ridicule one or more of their heroes or heroines.
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on 4 February 2013
I borrowed this little tome from my county library. Its slightly tatty condition and the copious date stamps inside the cover told of its frequent meanderings in and out of the households of, I suspect, many of the liberal cognoscenti of North East Flintshire. The celebrity cameos are gloriously politically incorrect and hard-hitting to the point of sublime insensitivity. Mr Lett is to be congratulated for holding nothing sacred. I suspect, as in the case of his acerbic 2009 summary of the late, unlamented Jimmy Savile, his views are well ahead of the pack. With a saloon-bar guffaw bursting out of every paragraph this is thought-provoking, top-drawer satirical writing. Please can we have volume 2. And just for devilment, a page or two on Jeremy Clarkson?
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on 2 December 2008
Letts' book comes from an interesting perspective; acerbic and amusing pen pictures of those who, as the title tells us, have not made such a positive contribution to our national life. All well and good if the target is a pompous and hubristic politician whose words and actions fail to match, or some greedy business person who puts profit above humanity. But to target someone because of how they look or the way they speak is not only cruel but cheap and lacking in imagination.

In places, the book is amusing but too many pieces have a sense of the school bully about them. Picking on someone whose only apparant failing, according to Letts, is that they are on TV or that they choose to dye their hair is childish. Such writing becomes a cheap shot and as such, lacks any credability.

There is a smug attitude to much of Letts' writing. This is a pity because those targets deserving of scrutiny also deserved more of the authors attention at the expense of those who simply annoy him.
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I suppose "Fifty five people who made a mess of Britain" would not have sold as many copies.

And "Angry rants against fifty-five people who annoy me, and another one against twenty people who don't quite rate an individual chapter slagging them off" would have sold even fewer. But it would been a much more accurate title.

And it was the height of hypocrisy to include a chapter which slags off Stephen Marks, the head of French Connection UK who made a point of trying to sue for ownership of the mis-spelled F-word, for his contribution to "the coarseness of language" in a book which itself has an offensive word in the title. The name of this book is an example of exactly what Letts pillories in that chapter.

Most of the pieces in this book are witty and entertaining, at least for those who either sympathise with the high tory traditionalist right or can laugh with a view expressed from that direction even if they don't necessarily agree with it. I suspect there will also be few who don't agree with at least some of the charges made against Letts' chosen targets: Dr Beeching, Jeffrey Archer, and Paul Burrell for example.

Some of his other articles are interesting whether you agree with them or not, and this particularly applies to some of the minority of essays where the attack comes from left field rather than being easily predictable. For example, in one of the less vitriolic pieces in the book, he pins the blame for the start of the "Health and Safety" culture on the late Harold Walker MP (who he is careful to emphasise "often meant well. But that is not the same as saying he acheived good things. Not the same thing at all.")

The essay on Greg Dyke ignores or deliberately disavows several obvious lines of attack to make the point that one of the curses of today is tiredness caused by lack of sleep. Letts makes an interesting if perhaps overstated case that Dyke's decision to move the Nine O'Clock news back an hour to the slot vacated by "News at Ten" has contributed to that problem.

Letts also makes a thought provoking argument that the infamous challenge by JP McEnroe Junior "You cannot be serious!" did far more damage to good sportsmanship by contributing to a culture of lack of respect for referees and rules, than was immediately apparent at the time.

But, but, but and again but ...
(apologies to Ian Fleming)

There is a saying that you can judge a man by the quality of his enemies: show me someone who hasn't made any and I will show you someone who at best has not done very much. And it does seem that a lot of easy targets are selected in this book, some of whom are shot at, not because they did something wrong, but because they did something which not everyone liked (and to quote Mr Letts, this is "Not the same thing at all.")

For example, in some of the essays Letts has selected peculiar grounds to criticise someone who was unpopular for a rather different set of reasons. One or two of these - such as the Greg Dyke essay - are some of the best in the book, but the others are the worst ones.

As other reviewers have already mentioned his rather odd reason for attacking Mrs Thatcher, let me point to the even stranger reason he pillories Ted Heath. Since Ted was the man who took us into the Common Market, as the EU was then called, presided over the "Barber Boom" with a huge increase in the money supply, and took on the unions and lost, there are plenty of reasons why many people don't like him. Some of those reasons I have a great deal of sympathy for.

But what does Letts attack Ted for? Sacking Enoch Powell for the "Rivers of Blood" speech. I don't think many even of those who think this decision was a mistake will place it at the top of things Ted did that they disagree with.

Similarly Nicholas Ridley "was not a Conservative at all" and Jim Callaghan is attacked not for sabotaging "In place of Strife" or twice nearly bankrupting the country as Chancellor and then PM, but for decimalisation.

As other reviewers have pointed out, Quentin Letts builds up an amazing head of steam against some apparently inoffensive targets. Frank Blackmore gets it in the neck for inventing mini-roundabouts, and Dutch rally river Maurice Gatsonides because other people turned his system for timing his racing performance into the "Gatso" speed camera.

Christian composer Graham Kendrick has written a large number of modern hymns, some of which are excellent and some of which I personally dislike. But given some of the other views expressed in this book (for example, in the the section attacking Richard Dawkins), you would expect Letts to approve of someone who made christian worship more attractive to the modern generation. No, most of Kendrick's worst works - and none of the best - feature in a particularly angry and not very Christian rant from Letts.

Overall a very mixed bag. Some people will enjoy Letts' poisoned pen, but there will be few readers for whom at least one or two of the essays will not produce raised eyebrows.
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on 27 December 2012
As this was reduced, I thought I would download it to my kindle as a bit of light reading. Most of the book is amusing and witty. As many reviewers have commented, most people would agree with many of Letts' targets - eg. Paul Burrell. However, some are surprising, particularly for someone who writes for the Daily Mail, including Margaret Thatcher. Some I had never heard of, but Letts explains it is not necessarily the person but what they stand for - eg. anodyne weather presenters - bring back John Kettley.
The book is very quick to read and witty but don't expect detailed political insights.
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on 29 January 2010
Plodding, pedantic and pompous, but the book offers some relief for those pent-up feelings for which you have no outlet. Many comments are simply hurtful, especially the physical descriptions, and this detracts from any merit of the criticism. Any humour is spelt out, signalled paragraphs in advance, and if the cliche is too hand, then it's used - and extended (as people say). Peolple often don't say.

It's good, though, to see some of the altars kicked away - the dreadful Beeching gets an excellent seeing-to - so the appeal of the writer matters less than the lack of appeal of some of his subjects.
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on 26 January 2016
It came as a quickie Christmas prezzie from someone who accurately inferred my political disaffections; and written by Quentin Letts, who they certainly didn't know was a columnist for The Daily Mail, and at his dissections I often laughed out loud.

This pick-up-and-put-down paperback contains a review of 50-odd individuals - mostly from political life - their characters and achievements. Some are dead, others still extant. Mr Letts letts rip with typical verbosity and rib-tickling gusto. The content of assessment varies, and I'm inclined to believe that there are far more deserving subjects for inclusion, and one or two who really don't deserve to be there at all, being more victim of the new celebrity culture than their own foibles or incompetence. Sometimes people can't seem to help being famous or catching the public (or media) eye. In this regard he should perhaps be pointing his eloquent pen at his colleagues rather than the hapless subject he lampoons. A `one-star' commenter has suggested that these people more represent Letts' personal hit-list that an objective view of their historical wreckage, and I tend to agree.

I was particularly interested in his analysis of Tony Blair, as it spent more time explaining the duplicitous way (and almost certainly, motive) by which he extricated himself completely from the Westminster theatre, to become the international money-grubbing political prostitute and craven fawner of tyrants that realised his later incarnation. Whereas I felt the greatest damage done by Blair was the advancement of public contempt for political office, by his own contempt for personal and Parliamentary accountability. Basically - his utter dishonesty and abuse of power. Letts could've gone much further than he did. Maybe the fact that Blair is a qualified lawyer stayed his hand... Likewise his evaluation of Edward (Ted) Heath. Heath's great crime seems to have been that he sacked Enoch Powell for his "rivers of blood" speech and thereby introduced a climate of fear against anyone speaking out against `multiculturalism'. I don't subscribe to that at all. It's a false thread. The passing of legislation which prohibited the use of prejudicial language - now referred to as Political Correctness - and the bizarre concept of "hate crime" whereby police officers gained powers to arrest and charge individuals for criminal offences, apparently on the basis of the officers' evaluation of the state on an individual's mind was the real culprit here. Overnight, bobbies became psychologists, our new Thought Police. And again; these were BLAIR's babies. In my humble opinion; Heath's culminating villainy was to lure this country into the European Union on a pack of lies, representing it as just a "common market" when right from the outset he knew fine well that a United States of Europe was its intent; a blatant act of treason for which he should be forever damned, and from which most of our national, social and economic woes today ultimately stem. He even gave away all of our priceless, coveted fishing grounds as a bribe to Brussels and at a stroke turned this country's back on all of its historical friends and allies - such as Canada, Australia & New Zealand - who had sent their best sons to die in our defence during two world wars, each initiated by our new European "friends". No; with Heath, Letts barely touches the nerve for me. As to Richard Dawkins - what's he done? He's just the latterday mouthpiece for Darwin. There's something seriously askew with the mindset of someone who will pillory a man for preaching scientific truth, but remain mute against the furious thugs who seek to enforce deistic doctrine on pain of death. Meanwhile, I suggest The Church of England and its practitioners have done a great deal more to bugger (both literally and metaphorically) this country at a moral level. If anything, we need more bold spirits like Dawkins.

There are also times when Mr Letts seems more in love with his own eloquence - being given a whole book to let fly, instead of the confines of a newspaper column - than with performing comprehensive hatchet-jobs. And there is quite evident political bias in the anointment of his acid. Letts is definitely not a socialist; he is, after all, a writer for The Daily Mail. Still, it's a rumbustious read that will give giggles a-plenty to those with a critical-political-satirical eye.
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on 27 April 2015
Those readers familiar with Quentin Letts' newspaper work will know very well what to expect here: the clue is in the title! Mr Letts does not hold back in his ruthless critiques of those (including politicians, sportsmen, celebrities, business tycoons, entertainers and yes, royals) who have, in his opinion, wronged Britain in significant ways. You may or may not agree with Letts but you will find his character assassinations witty, acerbic and thought provoking. An entertaining book with some interesting social commentary woven into each piece.
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on 4 February 2014
Despite what other numpties have said I found the book entraining and factual, I must admit I wasn't aware of some of the facts, which must have a ring of truth as Quentin Letts has not been sued for libel. He is a master of the English Language and his description of each "Bugger" is just short enough to stop boredom setting in. I felt sorry for the way Dr Beeching was pilloried for decimating the rail network thinking, wrongly, he didn't study demographics; this book changed my opinion. I bought my copy for 1p and is was worth every penny. Great for a quick read in bed, I enjoyed it
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on 13 February 2010
The problem with Quentin Letts doing a book like this, as anyone who's ever seen him on Question Time might testify, is that he's a smug, self-satisfied, over-privileged, bigot and general twit, of modest talents. Why else would he be working for the Daily Mail? So while potshots at, say, Ed Balls (a politician) might be fair enough, some of his other views are based on his own class-riddled prejudices - he attacks some very, very soft targets, and for all the wrong reasons. A good, middle-aged grumble-fest is fine for a bit of a laugh, but ultimately, the nature of the points made, and the nature of the writer, take the fun out of the experience. Clive James and PJ O'Rourke come to mind as commentators who have written far sharper books on similar subject-matter. Quentin Letts is a long, long, way from being either.
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